Uganda Monthly Report 02/2003 - High malnutrition rates in Gulu camps

Situation Report
Originally published


  • Civil insecurity remains high in northern Uganda, where many internally displaced persons suffer worsening food insecurity. There are reports of isolated cases of high food insecurity.

  • Preliminary results of a nutritional assessment in Gulu District indicate global acute malnutrition rates of 32 percent and 18 percent in Anaka and 18 percent in Pabo camps, respectively. The Ministry of Health has warned that more children could become acutely malnourished if no action is taken. WFP hopes to expand its feeding program in accessible camps.

  • Food security conditions are worsening in Kotido, Moroto and Nakapiripirit Districts of Karamoja Region where the harvest was much below normal last season. Karimojong pastoralists have caused more displacements in Katakwi District. The UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA) will lead a joint assessment in February to ascertain and update IDP conditions in the district.

  • Sorghum prices for the period August 2002 to January 2003 are 10 percent higher than the average for same period for 2000/2001 and 2001/2002 in key markets located in civil insecure and drought affected areas. In Karamoja, a fifty percent decline in livestock prices, compared to normal, has further eroded terms of trade.

1.0 Review of Continuing Humanitarian and Food Crises; Responses and Mitigation

1.1 Northern Uganda - Gulu, Kitgum Pader Districts: District authorities, UN agencies, NGOs and FEWS NET are concerned about deteriorating civil and food security conditions in the three northern Uganda districts, where continued sporadic attacks by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have resulted in widespread population displacements, loss of life, livelihoods and property. The rebels, who now operate in smaller, isolated groups, in contrast to previous periods when they moved in large easily noticeable bands, are increasingly attacking several communities at the same time, often separated by large distances. They are also laying frequent ambushes on vehicles. This mode of operation has made it difficult for the government-deployed armed personnel to track them down. Except for areas within and close to trading centres and urban locations, most places in the three districts are only accessible with armed escorts due to high risk of ambush along roads. Restricted road travel severely limits the delivery of services and assistance to the resident population and internally displaced persons (IDPs).

The IDPs continue to live in government-protected camps and are dependent on external assistance for nearly all their food and non-food requirements. Most of the camps are very congested, have very limited supplies of water and lack proper sanitation facilities. Incidence of malaria, diarrhea, upper thoracic infections as well as HIV/AIDS is high among the IDPs. To better understand the extent of food insecurity and determine nutritional status of the IDPs, the United Nations World Food Programme (UN WFP), in collaboration with the Ministry of Health (Government of Uganda, GoU), Action Against Hunger (US), and Norwegian Refugee Council, recently conducted a nutritional survey involving 171 children under five and 278 household members in two of the large camps, Anaka and Pabbo, in Gulu District. Data from three therapeutic feeding centers (TFCs) in Gulu and Kitgum was also analyzed. Preliminary results indicate global acute malnutrition rates of 32 and 18 percent among children under 5 in Anaka and Pabbo, respectively. As 15 percent represents a critical cut off point, these figures are truly worrisome.

According to the report, although many children come to the TFCs, many more do not because of high insecurity. Further, the report states that recovery rates of children at the TFCs are alarmingly low, mainly attributed to the low capacity of the TFCs and the advanced stage of malnutrition in which many children arrive. As a result of the study, WFP is hoping to expand its feeding program and to implement blanket supplementary feeding to children in accessible camps. Nonetheless, the MOH and WFP note that for the program to be effective, the capacity of NGOs and district feeding center staff needs to be improved to manage the supplementary feeding centers and TFCs. Meanwhile an emergency food needs assessment is to be conducted in Pader District by WFP, government and NGOs, starting mid February 2003.

Appreciation for Contributions

- District Agriculture and Veterinary Officials
- Market Information Service, IITA
- Lutheran World Federation, Katakwi District
- OXFAM GB-Kotido
- The United Nation’s World Food Programme/Uganda
1.2 Katakwi District: According to humanitarian organizations and NGOs working with communities in Katakwi District, including Lutheran World Federation-Katakwi, Karimojong pastoralists, after entering the district in January 2003 in search of water and pastures, attacked villages, leading to the displacement of an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people. The district administration reports that there were an estimated 117,852 IDPs before the recent displacements. Several homesteads were burned and many gardens and fields destroyed. Increased civil insecurity has caused people to move westwards, away from the border areas with Karamoja, and has reduced people's access to food and their fields. A joint assessment mission of IDPs in Katakwi District, to be led by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is planned for February, to update the number of IDPs, and to further understand their living and food security conditions.

2.0 Food Security Conditions and Prospects

Food security conditions are deteriorating quickly among IDPs in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts. Faced with limited access to fields and very low household food stocks, many displaced people in northern Uganda are increasingly at risk of hunger. Some of the IDPs have ventured out of the protected camps, despite the risk of rebel attack and abductions, to gather food from their homes or wild foods from surrounding areas. It is estimated there are nearly 800,000 IDPs who are mainly dependent on WFP's food aid distribution. The agency reports an improvement in its northern pipeline, although it is still seeking funding to meet food aid requirements beyond April 2003.

A poor harvest in the past season has left more than half of the households in Karamoja (Kotido, Moroto and Nakapiripirit Districts) with little or no food stocks and dependent on wild berries and fruits for food. A few households that own livestock are able to sell their animals (at very low prices) for income to purchase food brought in from neighboring districts. OXFAM GB in Kotido reports that low food availability in the district is forcing many people to migrate from rural areas to trading centers and towns in search of income opportunities, which are limited. The NGO also reports increasing livestock movement in search of pastures and water.

Increased civil insecurity and reduced people's access to food and their fields in Katakwi District threatens the food security of the IDPs and resident population close to the border with Karamoja Most other regions of Uganda enjoy normal food security with no observable stress (Figure 1).

MAP: Uganda: District Location of Major Food Insecure Populations

3.0 National Trends: Hazard Information

3.1 Agroclimatic Conditions: Following wetter than normal conditions in the early part of January, normal dry conditions returned in the last part of January, accompanied by very high atmospheric and surface temperatures. Areas of western and southwestern Uganda and the central regions began receiving rainfall by early February, mainly in the high elevation areas and along lakeshores.

In February, the Uganda Department of Meteorology issued its medium range forecast for the February to April 2003 period, projecting a start to the first rainy season by mid-February to early March for most of the country (Figure 2). The department suggests that ongoing isolated rainfall in western and southwestern Uganda will persist until mid-March, when well-distributed rainfall is expected, marking the full establishment of the season in these regions. Central, Lake Victoria and eastern areas are forecasted to receive early rainfall interspersed with dry periods in February to early March, developing into full first season rains by mid-March. Northeastern Uganda is expected to have a normal start to the season in mid-April.

MAP - Uganda: Expected Full Establishment of First Rainy Season

3.2 Crop Cultivation Activities and Growing Conditions: The peak maize harvest is over in central and eastern Uganda. The harvest was normal. A few farmers continue to harvest late-planted millet and sorghum in eastern and northern Uganda. Farmers in western and southwestern Uganda began harvesting sorghum, a major staple, and maize in January, and a normal crop is expected. Ongoing rains in these areas are facilitating land preparation efforts.

January to February is normally the period when farmers carry out pre-season activities in preparation for the first rainy season. Current agricultural activities include land clearing and plowing in central, eastern and parts of northern and northwestern Uganda where farmers are also dry sowing cereals (mainly millet) in areas not affected by civil insecurity. The presence of LRA rebels and uncertain civil security limit farmer access to fields in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader Districts, where minimal cultivation activities are reported, a sign that only minor crop sowing is likely to take place if conditions do not improve. As stated above, the presence of Karimojong pastoralists is hampering land preparation in Katakwi District.

In the meantime, the supply of banana, a major staple in central and western Uganda, remains relatively low but is expected to improve by March, when production is projected to increase. Supplies of cassava and sweet potatoes continue to be normal.

3.3 Livestock Conditions:

Livestock conditions in Kotido, Moroto and Nakapiripirit Districts are mediocre as the dry conditions continue. Vegetation and water supplies are low and many pastoralists are reportedly moving in search of pastures and water, with some moving into neighboring districts where they have not been welcome in the past two years due to attacks attributed to them. Water scarcity in all three districts has led livestock herders and other people to queue at water points for long periods, even at night. The situation is getting worse and will not improve until April with the expected rains. The movement of livestock away from homesteads will reduce household access (particularly for children and elderly) to livestock products, increasing their food insecurity. There are no reports of significant livestock diseases, and earlier reports of Anaplasmosis do not seem to hold true. Normal livestock conditions are reported in central, southern and southwestern Uganda, where livestock have adequate access to pastures and water.

4.0 Commodity Prices, Food Availability and Access

In district markets affected by civil insecurity, such as Gulu, and surrounding supply districts, including Lira, a general upward trend in staple crop prices has been observed over the past six months. The same trend is reported in markets that supply drought affected Karamoja, such as Mbale District, where crop production was below average last year.

On average, sorghum prices for the period August 2002 to January 2003 are 10 percent higher than the average for same period for 2000 to 2001 and 2001 to 2002, reducing food access for households dependent on these markets (Figure 3). Cereal prices in Mbale District have risen to levels comparable to the same period in 2000, when similar drought conditions were experienced in Karamoja. Oxfam GB confirms that prices of basic commodities in Kotido and Moroto District have risen by more than 150 percent. Prices of sorghum in Kotido and Moroto Districts are now twice the normal price at UGS 600. This is one hundred shillings more than reported in January and twice the price in August 2002. On the other hand, prices for livestock have continued to drop by as much as fifty percent of the normal nominal value. The declining terms of trade are worrisome for the coming months as the trend is not likely to change until after June/July when the next harvest is due. Thus, the food security prognosis for households in Karamoja is not good.

Figure 3: Percent Change in Sorghum Prices in Reference Markets: Aug. - Jan. 2002/03 vs Average for Aug. to Jan. (2000/01 and 2001/02)

Source: Market Information Services and FEWS NET, February 2003